By Jack Mayne

The SeaTac City Council during a lengthy meeting Tuesday night, April 14, was told of Gov. Jay Inslee’s resolution supporting a moratorium on evicting people for not paying their rent and encouraging landlords to “assist their tenants to the extent practicable,” as well as encouraging “tenants to maintain open and honest communication with their landlords” during the COVID-19 outbreak.

At the end of the discussion, two Councilmembers voted for it Councilmembers Takele Gobena and Senayet Negusse supported and the resolution, with all others opposed.

City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo

Non enforceable
City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo said “this resolution, if passed, would not be enforceable. The city does not have a legal basis to instruct a landlord on what to do with his or her tenants.”

She said other cities have passed such a resolution and while not enforceable, “it is not harmful” so it was sent from committee to the full Council for its consideration.

At the end of comments from each member, only Councilmember Takele Gobena voted for it, all others against.

Mayor Erin Sitterley

Mayor Erin Sitterley said she opposed the the resolution “because it is a waste of paper and a waste of ink. The governor has spoken and he has declared a moratorium on evictions at this time and that’s it.” She said that if people are evicted, they won’t be coming to the city, but to the governor.

“I am absolutely aghast at councilmembers who are driving forward and causing huge number of hours of staff time to be spent chasing our tails on a toothless” proclamation, she said.

Councilmember Senayet Negusse said all the resolution is is supporting what is already in place. “This has no legal implication for our city. We are simply supporting the moratorium already in place put by the governor. It is still up to the landlord and tenant.” But she said she would support the resolution as a gesture of support for the many tenants worried about keeping their home. “Do your best and pay your bills … this acknowledges that all of us are struggling at this time and maintain an open line of communication and support your neighbors,” Negusse said, adding people can contact her if they have questions.

Councilmember Clyde Hill said a lot of time and resources have gone into this motion which is unenforceable and not binding, and while he originally supported it, would now vote against it in the interest of saving time and city resources.

Councilmember Joel Wachtel said he was “aghast at the proposal” and said the city “doesn’t need to govern … and the free market should take care of it out of common sense.” He said the city “doesn’t need to govern that because it is a reality.”

Councilmember Peter Kwon said the city already has a process to help people with rent. “Now it is obvious that this is political grandstanding,”

Councilmemer Takele Gobina said this is a “simple gesture to say … we are with you, we are together.” He wondered why not to support the resolution than other “all of our neighboring cities have done. “If we are not saying, we are together, what are we doing? The people of SeaTac know this is not binding, this is a guesture. It is to show our solidarity. This is a time to become compassionate.”

Councilmember Pam Fernald said she has learned that if a person has a problem with the landlord, “contact your landlord. A landlord with a brain is going to work with you because if you are a good tenant, they are going to work with you because they don’t want to lose you and, if you are not a good tenant, you may be getting evicted, not because you are not a good tenant but some other reason.” She also noted that people with a problem can contact the city manager “because we have a wonderful human services program here … for helping people who can’t pay their rent.”

Gambling tax waiver
On April, during the pandemic COVID-19 shutdown, Mayor Erin Sitterley issued a proclamation extending the due date of April 3 for payment of gambling taxes in response to the novel coronavirus. The Council was asked to ratify Sitterley’s proclamation regarding the tax payment date change.

The issue was initiated when the city received a request from Maverick Gaming, owner of the Silver Dollar Casino, for an extension of one year to pay their 2020 first quarter gambling taxes. But a city review of the request determined that an extension “shorter than one-year was more appropriate.”

Assistant City Attorney Mark Johnson

The extension was for three months for payment of the first quarter of taxes, and a three month extension for the second quarter of the tax, said Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Johnson. He said that was contingent on the filing of the tax statement on time and the second quarter extension is continent on payment of the first quarter tax by April 30. Johnson said a second quarter extension was contingent on paying the first quarter taxes.

City ordinances say the mayor has the authority “to make and issue rules and regulations on matters reasonably related to the protection of life and property as affected by such disaster; provided, however, the change must be confirmed at the earliest practicable time by the City Council.”

City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo said that Councilmember Gobena would not participate in the vote because of conflicts of interest. When asked, Gobena agreed to not participate in voting on the gambling changes because he represents some of the Maverick Gaming workers involved and because he represents members of the Teamster’s union.

The Council approved the modified agreement with Maverick 6 to 0 with Gobena abstaining.

‘Affordable Housing’
The SeaTac City Council considered and approved on a 6 to 1 vote an aerial easement for the Polaris project which displaced the international marketplace.
The lone negative vote was from Councilmember Takele Gobena.

The easement was needed for two reasons. First, the building will have canopies as required by the SeaTac land use code and they will hang over the city sidewalk within the right-of-way. The second reason is a corner of one of the Polaris towers has a cantilever that hangs over a small portion of the city right-of-way.

Councilmember Clyde Hill said it was good to have affordable housing for workers at the airport so they did not have to travel from outlying areas of the county. Now they can use light rail and get easily to work.

Gobena said “this does not look like affordable housing.” He said a family of four needs $71,000 but a worker at the airport makes only $31,000 a year. Even if a partner makes $31.000 they would make only $62,000 and not enough to reach the $71,000. He added that this property has a long history and many city officials just want to get it done.

“I understand that, but let’s do it right. People just want the facts and the fact is, if you work at the airport, you can’t afford to live in those apartments.”

But Gobena said he was told a worker is limited to earning less than $71,000 a year to live in the proposed complex, not more than that amount.

If a family earns more than $71,000 they cannot live in the building but could in a companion building which will be for those making less than required for the Polaris Towers.

Easement for Polaris
The Council approved a multi-family tax exemption and a maintenance easement for privately paid right of way Improvements for the Polaris at SeaTac development. Also approved by Council was an aerial easement for canopies and a cantilever for a corner of a building that will be over a city sidewalk.

The sale of the SeaTac Center to Polaris is expected by April 30, with construction to start shortly thereafter.

The Council also approved an ordinance for design of the second phase of the South 180th Street spot drainage flood reduction project by OTAK, Inc. for a contract not to exceed $259,200 and a $96,175 budget change to pay for the design.